Hello, AnnTheGran Community!
It's only been about a month, and I miss all of you already, so I thought I'd come back and say hello. More importantly, I have unfinished business. I had some great requests from a previous Magic Bookshelf post about technology aspects to talk about, and I never got around to addressing those. So, here's what I'm planning to post about over the next little while:
Post #1 (today) - Connecting with Distant Family and Friends on Skype
Post #2 - What's So Great (And So Dangerous) About Facebook? Should you be on it?
Post #3 - Twitter and Microblogging - What is it and is it here to stay?
Post #4 - Using Social Networks to Share your Photos (and Scrapbooks) with Others
So, with that out of the way, let's get started with Skype. I know that a number of AnnTheGran users have already been using Skype for years, but my experience is that it's one of those things that people familiar with technology mistakenly assume is common knowledge, when that is in fact not the case. If you are a regular user, feel free to comment on this post and provide some encouragement to members of our community who might be thinking of giving it a try.
I have to apologize from the start if you work for a phone company, because this is not the type of post that encourages spending money on long distance calls. In fact, it's the type that shows you how to make all of your long-distance calls for free. I have written before about a service called Skype that I use regularly to keep in touch with family and friends all over the world. Because I have a webcam as well, it's not uncommon to have the whole family in the room during a Skype call with family overseas, and we'll talk for hours because it really is just like having them in the same room. Rather than always watching the clock because you're worried about the cost, it's more like a real interaction with loved ones that you don't ever want to end!
Skype is a program that you run on your Windows or Mac computer that allows you to talk with family, friends, or business associates anywhere in the world using your Internet connection. In other words, no long-distance charges. It uses a technology called "Voice over Internet Protocol" (VOIP for short), which basically means that it uses the same technology as instant messaging programs like MSN Messenger but it also carries voice. For the record, both MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger also have voice and video options, but I've always found that Skype gives a better connection. I have a high-speed connection, but I actually find that, even with a wireless connection, sound quality is just as good as it is through my home telephone and the phone company.
In addition to just making calls, Skype also lets you:
* Send or receive files over the Internet to and from fellow skype users.
* Search your address book contacts in your mail program and call them within Skype.
* Search the database of all Skype users everywhere to find people you know who already use Skype.
* Hold a conference call with a group of people, still for free
* For a small fee, call to or receive a call from a regular telephone or a cell phone
In order to start using Skype, all you need is a computer with Internet access, the Skype program, and a headset with a microphone. If you don't have a headset, you can get one for as little as $20 at your local electronics store. As I mentioned above, to really get that "in the same room" feeling, add a webcam as well. Many laptops come already equipped to use Skype without a headset - as long as the computer's built-in microphone is sensitive enough, no headset is required. Same with webcams. Many laptops (like my MacBook Pro) have built-in webcams. Either way, it is extremely easy to start using Skype. You can download the free program and test your computer system for compatibility at http://www.skype.com. Just download it and follow the instructions.
If you're reading in a more rural area and you only have access to a dial-up connection, it still applies to you. Certainly, the quality of a dial-up connection will never be as good as broadband, but you should still be able to use Skype. If you want to try it with a dial-up connection, just make sure all other internet-related programs such as browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari), e-mail clients (Outlook, AOL), and chat applications (MSN messenger, Yahoo messenger) are closed, so that there is nothing interfering with your connection. You can even try a video chat through dial-up (I've heard of it being done), but the quality likely won't be that great.
So, if you haven't yet tried Skype, and you make a lot of long-distance calls, it's definitely something you should look into. Your far-flung family and friends will be glad you did.
Stay tuned for my next post: What's So Great (And So Scary) About Facebook? Should you be on it?